More Inconsistency on the Right
October 9, 2002
By Patrick Ennis
Three things happened last week that should have convinced
you if you were not already convinced that the political
Right in America has lost its sense of shame altogether, deciding
that single-minded focus is more useful than honesty or consistency
of message. Fortunately for them, these events were muted
a bit by the growing din of war drums being beaten by more
and more members of congress, now on both sides of the aisle,
as Democrats rush to find a reporter to whom to declare their
solidarity with the president's curiously hasty and intransigent
decision to turn Iraq into a U.S. client state.
The first item was the appeal of the New Jersey Supreme Court's
decision to allow the New Jersey Democrats to replace Sen.
Robert Torricelli, who wishes to withdraw his name from the
election in the wake of embarrassing corruption charges, on
the November ballot with former three-term Senator Frank Lautenberg.
Lautenberg is 78 and has already retired once, apparently
because he was old and tired. But no matter. New Jersey knows
how old he is, and they remember that they would likely have
granted him a fourth consecutive term had he sought one. Such
is Frank Lautenberg's popularity in the Garden State. He is
even wealthy and can pay some of his own campaign expenses.
Heck, no wonder his GOP opponent, Doug Forrester, a wealthy
man who made his fortune managing pharmacy benefits (for the
pharmaceutical companies), tried so hard to have the candidate
change declared illegal on the grounds that it was past the
constitutionally designated deadline, even though the NJ GOP
had done a similar post-deadline name change in a House election
contest in 2000. In a tribute to the Lee Atwater School of
Campaign Rhetoric, he had based his campaign almost entirely
on the fact that he wasn't the evil Bob Torricelli. The court
challenge was a hail Mary pass, but as they say, a drowning
man grasps at a straw.
Not surprisingly, the NJ Supreme Court unanimously ruled
the change permissable, despite the fact that three of the
justices are Republicans. Desperate, Forrester and the New
Jersey Republicans immediately appealed to the U.S. Supreme
Court, the same court that stepped reluctantly into the political
arena and inevitably assumed an air of bias when it stopped
the Gore campaign's ballot recounts during the 2000 presidential
election in Florida. The USSC, perhaps chastened by the experience,
declined on Monday to hear the case. But the inconsistency
of the tactic is so simple and obvious that legal scholars
analyzing such a case usually miss it - whatever happened
to the famed conservative commitment to states' rights?
The other thing that happened last week was probably even
less noticed, perhaps in part because it had happened before.
Twenty-one year old John Walker Lindh, the so-called "American
Taliban," in accordance with an agreement reached with
prosecutors earlier last summer, was formally sentenced to
20 years in a maximum security federal prison for his involvement
with the radical Islamist regime in Afghanistan. Walker Lindh
hails from progressive Marin County in northern California,
a fact not at all lost on the Right. Conservative talk show
hosts filled the airwaves and conservative writers filled
newspaper columns and articles with accusatory and self-congratulatory
boasts that this was a vindication of their claims about the
pernicious effects of liberalism. Conservative radio and TV
talk show host Sean Hannity wrote in his book Let Freedom
"Named after John Lennon, John Lindh was born and raised
in Marin County, a wealthy, liberal suburb of San Francisco.
He grew up in a veritable ideological Disneyland of moral
relativism, political correctness, and not-too-subtle anti-American
multi-culturalism, the kind that preaches that America is
a racist, sexist, bigoted, imperialist, homophobic, and thus
fundamentally evil and oppressive nation. He grew up feeding
his mind on 'The Autobiography of Malcolm X,' not Moses or
Peter or Paul. He grew up in a world where devout Christians
are regarded as part of the despised 'radical religious right'
and considered a serious threat to American pluralism and
And conservative columnist Mona Charen, in a February column,
"The key to understanding John Walker Lindh is that
he came from a family that was so liberal, as the old joke
goes, that they declined to impose their values even on themselves...
Eager to provide their son with 'choices,' and to be 'supportive,'
the Lindhs never so mauch as raised an objection when their
16 year-old dropped out of school, converted to Islam and
announced a desire to live in Yemen. Mrs. Lindh wondered about
Islamic views of women, but not apparently enough to deny
her son's request for the wherewithal to travel to Yemen and
thence to Afghanistan."
Clearly, this is what the Right would have us believe is
the inevitable result of a liberal upbringing. What they curiously
omit, however, is that Walker Lindh, in joining the Taliban,
an organization slightly further to the right than the Nazis,
ended up repudiating all things liberal. In short, Jihad Johnny
is not a poster-boy for liberalism, but for the total rejection
of it espoused by conservative pundits and "intellectuals."
And then there was the shameful promotion by conservative
writers and pundits of Shannon Spann, the widow of CIA officer
Johnny "Mike" Spann, the first American casualty
of the military campaign in Afghanistan, in connection with
the Walker Lindh plea agreement. First in July, when the agreement
with prosecutors was initially made, and again last week at
the formal sentencing, the widow Spann appeared on the Fox
Network's "Hannity & Colmes" and "The O'Reilly
Factor," asked for and gladly giving her opinion of Walker
Lindh's sentence for carrying explosives in cooperation with
the Taliban, and saying she thought it far too lenient.
She was even asked for comment by AP at that point. But even
the prosecutors never alleged that Walker Lindh had anything
to do with Spann's death. He was present at the prison uprising
where Spann was killed, but so were many others, including
some other Americans. So, as he apparently had nothing to
do with Mr. Spann's death, and there is little or no disagreement
on this point, what possible relevance does Mrs. Spann's opinion
have to the plight of Walker Lindh?
I suspect that this, ironically, is a concession to political
correctness on the part of conservatives, who claim to reject
the idea of political correctness. But what a powerful image;
the strong widow stoically facing up to the loss of her beloved
husband, the brave American patriot. The emotional imagery
is irresistible, and useful, so consistency be damned. It
is the same type of disingenuous tearmongering trial lawyers
do, when trying to convince a jury that McDonald's owes some
little old lady a million dollars because she spilled some
of their hot coffee on herself, and it hurt so bad! Of course,
the Right also claims to reject trial lawyers. It just goes
to show, once again, that when or if you listen to the
right wing punditocracy, which does indeed have entertainment
value, take their words with a grain of salt.
Patrick Ennis is articulating the views of the liberal,
secular working class because, frankly, somebody has to (and
nobody else is).